2006 H-D VRSCD Night Rod - Night Moves - MC Exclusive Road Test

The big Honda VTX1800C pulled up on the right at the light. Its rider looked over at the red-and-black Harley, its chrome gleaming in the street lights. We could see his brow furrow under his helmet. He tilted his head to the side as his eyes swept over the bike's right side.

"Is that a Street Rod?"
Our man shook his head no.
"So it's what...not a V-Rod?"

Fortunately, the light changed before we had to think up an acceptable answer. We were sworn to secrecy because dealers wouldn't see the newest member of Harley's VRSC family for another few weeks, and all motorcycle manufacturers like to let their dealers be the first to know about new bikes.

That Honda rider's confusion was understandable. The new VRSCD blends aspects of the V-Rod, the founding member of Harley's line of liquid-cooled 1130cc twin-overhead-camshaft 60-degree V-twins, with others from the new Street Rod. Basically, the team charged with advancing the VRSC platform combined the best of both versions of the basic bike and added a few fresh touches, creating what for many riders will be the ideal ride. The new bike is called the Night Rod. To maintain secrecy, we called it the "Nightstick" while talking about it where we might be overheard.

For those unfamiliar with Harley's VR streetbikes, here is a quick review. The original bike in the family, the VRSCA V-Rod, was introduced as a 2001 model. Though the engine, designed in conjunction with Porsche, displaces only 1130cc, it is tuned to make some real power-more than 110 horsepower. The style is pure cruiser, low and stretched out, with the footpegs well forward, disc wheels and a minimalist, performance bent. It's lighter and more responsive than most cruisers, even other power cruisers, and powerful, too. Among V-twin cruisers, only Yamaha's four-cylinder V-Max can outrun it-at least until now. However, though the seat is low, it is a long reach forward to the footpegs, which makes it uncomfortable for the inseam-challenged and can be tiring for most riders.

Next Harley added a purely cosmetic variation, the VRSCB V-Rod B model. It was barely different from the VRSCA-a black instead of silver frame and cases, a different headlight, etc.-and functionally the same. However, the third member of the family, the VRSCR Street Rod, took a big step away from the V-Rod. Introduced early this year as an '06 model, the Street Rod has a new frame bent more toward strafing apexes than blitzing the boulevard, and rides on suspension with more travel. It sits higher off the ground, which leaves more room for the underseat fuel tank. However, the Street Rod's exhaust system is what makes V-Rod riders envious, since it's more efficient, adds a handful of horsepower and has a throatier note. Its styling appears to come from the same hand that drew the V-Rod. Its attitude, however, leans toward sporting at least as much as turning heads. Harley calls it a roadster rather than a cruiser. (Harley's custom vehicles operation unit built a 1250cc variation of the V-Rod, but that was a limited-production model.)

Harley's Rod series has been popular with first-time Harley buyers and in Europe, so it represents a growth area for Harley. The team charged with developing new models on the platform must have looked at what they already had and said, "How about putting the strong engine in a cruiser chassis?" Enter the Night Rod.

At its heart, the Night Rod matches the V-Rod's frame with the 120-horsepower Street Rod engine and exhaust system. In many ways the Night Rod fits somewhere between the other two bikes. With two sets of footpegs, the rider can choose whether he or she wants the clamshell riding position with feet forward or a less stretched position on the midset main pegs, which also mount the controls.

Steering geometry also sits somewhere between the two, with the steering-head rake set at 34 degrees, as on the V-Rod, but the fork angle is set two degrees less than the V-Rod's 38 degrees at 36. The more sporting Street Rod's angles are 30 degrees for the steering head and 32 for the fork. At 66.9 inches, the wheelbase is a scant tenth of an inch longer than the Street Rod's and 0.6 inches shorter than the V-Rod's. However, at 4.6 inches, the Night Rod has more front-wheel trail than either the V-Rod (3.9) or the Street Rod (4.3). Its 27.1-inch seat height is the same as the V-Rod's (and almost 3.0 inches lower than the Street Rod's). That's because it has the same 4.0 inches of suspension travel as the V-Rod (and the same 3.7-gallon fuel tank under the seat).

Though all three bikes use the same tires and wheel sizes, on the style scale the Night Rod's slotted-disc wheels fall somewhere between the solid discs of the V-Rod and the 10-spoke hoops on the Street Rod. In other ways, the Night Rod's look is all its own. That small drag-style headlight fairing is fresh. It inherits some items-the stainless-steel tubular handlebar, the black engine cases, the black frame and the instruments, which include two LCD trip-meters and a clock-from the B-model V-Rod, which won't be back for '06. The engine on the Night Rod is, appropriately, black powdercoated with polished edges. Our bike also had chrome engine covers, a $495 option. Overall, it made for the most striking engine bay in the VRSC series.

Of course, you can't miss the family resemblance. The pedestal-style instrument cluster, the aluminum dummy tank, the chrome-edged radiator shroud and the stretched rear fender with its hidden rails are all family heirlooms.

Though it's not quite as sleek, the Night Rod's two-piece saddle provides a better perch for passengers than the V-Rod's, mostly because it doesn't slope down at the back, but it's still too small for more than short hops. Fortunately, Harley has plenty of alternatives for both halves of the saddle. The rider's portion is comfy enough for a tank (125 miles or so) or two, but if you are going traveling you will want something like Harley's Sundowner saddle ($289). The rest of the ergonomic package performs well during extended rides, and the choice of footpegs (three if you count the rather high passenger pegs) allows you to change positions to alter the pressure points. Just remember that you don't want to get caught with your feet anywhere but the middle footpegs when you need to make a panic stop. For most of us, especially those with less leg, those main pegs are also the most comfortable and offer the most controllable riding position.

With more suspension travel than the typical cruiser, the Night Rod handles bumps better than most. Suspension control is acceptable, and although at 626 pounds full of fuel it's not light, the Night Rod feels lighter and more responsive than most cruisers, especially those that accelerate this hard. It will savage other current power cruisers on a meandering road because of its power, responsive and precise handling and stability. You can also lean a bit deeper than most cruisers before anything scratches the pavement. Like the Street Rod, the Night Rod wears Brembo brakes, which starting in '06 are standard on all VRSC models. With their 11.8-inch discs and four-piston calipers (two up front), the Brembos require slightly less pressure and deliver a bit more power and feel than the old brakes for stronger, harder stops. We still wish the levers had adjustments to adapt them to different hand sizes, however.

In an age when V-twin cruisers seem to lean on ever-larger (and heavier) engines to break in the power cruiser club, the Rod's high-revving (well, at least by cruiser standards), efficient, liquid-cooled, 60-degree DOHC eight-valve mill is something of a revelation, especially when it unleashes the extra ponies that come with its exhaust system. The Night Rod easily spanked that big, bad VTX mentioned at the beginning of this article. You do have to be willing to spin the engine (which is redlined at 9000 rpm) and slip the clutch hard when you launch, but if you do, it leaps away from those bulked-up big twins. Though it doesn't pump out torque virtually from idle like some bloated twins, it smoothes out and pulls happily from about 2000 rpm and passes hard without downshifting in top gear at highway speeds. Like the Street Rod, it's ever so slightly cantankerous at low rpm until it warms up, but once past that it dishes out the kind of hard-hitting performance other cruisers only look and sound like they deliver.

Though early V-Rods were a bit stiff in the gearbox, that's now history. The Night Rod snicks smoothly through the gearbox and easily turns up neutral when you want it. The clutch pull is still a bit heavier than most big cruisers', but it engages progressively and controllably.

Although the Night Rod certainly isn't the last new arrival we'll see in the VRSC family, it may be the best cruiser in the line. Those who saw it almost unanimously said it was the best-looking Rod to date, thanks to the engine finishes, the smoother pipe style and other details. Its footpeg arrangement makes it the most comfortable for a wider variety of riders. And that additional power matched by improved brakes makes it a better performer than the V-Rod, too. To cap it off, at $15,995, it's the most affordable member of the VRSC clan.

High Points
*Major power
*Best-looking Rod yet
*Ergos for everybody

Low Points
*Lever span a stretch for small hands
*Still pricey

First Changes
*Swap seats for long rides

2006 H-D VRSCD Night Rod
Seat height: 27.1 in.
Wheelbase: 66.9 in.
Wet weight: 626 lbs., 00% rear wheel
GVWR: 1022 lbs.
Overall length: 93.5 in.
Rake: 34 (deg.)
Trail: 4.6 in.
Designation: VRSCR
Suggested base price: $15,995
Standard colors: Black
Extra cost colors: Black Denim, Chopper Blue, Cobalt Blue, Brandywine Sunglo, add $245; Sunglo Blue/Chopper Blue, Black Cherry/Black Pearl, Fire Red/Vivid Black, add $300
Standard warranty: 24 mos., unlimited miles
Recommended service interval: 5000 miles

Engine & Drivetrain
Type: Liquid-cooled 60-degree tandem V-twin
Valve arrangement: DOHC; 2 intake, 2 exhaust valves
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1130cc, 100 x 72mm
Compression ratio: 11.3:1
Carburetion: EFI
Lubrication: Wet sump, 4.5 qt.
Minimum fuel grade: 92 octane
Transmission: Wet clutch, 5 speeds
Final drive: Belt

Wheels: Cast alloy, 19 x 3.0 in. front, 18 x 5.5 in. rear
Front tire: 120/70ZR-19 Dunlop D207F
Rear tire: 180/55ZR-18 Dunlop D407
Front brake: 2, 4-piston calipers, 11.8-in. discs
Rear brake: 4-piston caliper, 11.8-in. disc
Front suspension: Inverted, 43mm stanchions, 5.0 in. travel
Rear suspension: 2 dampers, 5.0 in. travel, adjustable for spring preload
Fuel capacity: 3.7 gal.

Electrical & Instrumentation
Charging output: 439 watts
Battery: 12v, 12 AH
Forward lighting: 55/65-watt headlight, position lights
Taillight: Single bulb
Instruments: Speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge, LCD odometer/dual tripmeter/clock/diagnostics; warning lights for high beam, turns signals, neutral, oil pressure, coolant temperature, engine diagnostics, security system

Fuel mileage: 31 to 41 mpg, 34.9 mpg average
Average range: 129 miles200-yard, top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 83.3 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 11.94 sec., 112.9 mph

Riding Positions
I find it kind of ironic that Harley, which builds the bikes everyone else is trying to emulate, is the one to break out of the air-cooled, pushrod, big-twin mold. But leaving the herd has definitely been rewarding for those of us who have gotten to ride the results. The Harleys for people who don't want Harleys are among the best cruisers out there, and certainly bring the power despite their modest displacement.

The Night Rod gives the best of all previous VR models, adds some spiffy style and even makes these modern Harleys a bit more accessible with a price that's $500 less than other Harley Rods.-Art Friedman

With its nocturnal name, I just assumed Harley's new scoot would take the form of a plain, blacked-out V-Rod. The Night Rod is a bit more than an exercise in graphic design-though I'll admit it's the most appealing V-Rod I've seen yet. On the road, my dwarflike digits appreciated the whoa power of Brembo brakes, and somehow, against all logic, the bike felt lighter and more responsive in turns. Still, I had issues (just ask my therapist)-the pipe always seemed to contact my calf when I stabbed my stubby legs down at a stop, and hunting for an efficient position on the midmount pegs/controls proved frustrating at times. The suspension was overly cranky in sharp-edged stuff, but I couldn't complain about the two options for foot placement-once I nailed the forward pegs, it was all smooth cruising. The Night Rod addresses most of the whines I had about the standard V-Rod and looks good doing it, but I'm hoping there are a few more tweaks in its future.-Andy Cherney

You've got to love a V-Rod. Don't you? Really, I do love that line of bikes for their sexy, lean lines and killer engine, and this is perhaps my favorite because of its sporty ergo orientation and visual flow. I'm more comfortable with my feet under me than in front, and it feels like I'm starting on the rear pegs with the Harley's latest Rods, which is good. But. I've been riding so many of the sleek, new Milwaukee wonders I'm beginning to pine for the real deal. The big charismatic thumpers we all know and love. It's like the guy I was talking with at the gas station said, "I guess that's a Harley, but it's not a Harley." Hmmm. The Night Rod is all Harley to me, but I have to be in the mood for it. A Road King, Fat Boy or Electra Glide? I'm never not in the mood.-Jamie Elvidge